Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 149

The presidents of ten CIS countries–all but Georgia and Turkmenistan–held an informal, “no-neckties” summit on August 1-2 in Russia’s Black Sea resort Sochi. By common decision, the presidents gathered without a prepared agenda or documents to be signed, and did not issue a concluding joint communique. The summit’s initiator, Russian President Vladimir Putin, used the event mainly to conduct bilateral meetings with the other presidents, on the pattern he introduced at the regular semiannual CIS summits.

The event in Sochi, however, appeared designed to renew the tradition of the informal August summits, hosted on the Black Sea by former Kremlin leaders Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev for compact groups of allied heads of state. Sochi was one of the favorite venues for those gatherings, which served to project the Kremlin leader as a bloc leader. Putin clearly wants to be seen as heir to that tradition.

The old stage set, however, can hardly conceal the changes in Russia’s and its leader’s status. The CIS could not be turned into a replica of the Warsaw Pact or the Comecon; the CIS summitters place national, state, group and personal interests above any “collective” or Russian interests; and Sochi itself is probably the last usable of the traditional venues for such August summits. The other favorite Black Sea summit venues, Yalta and Gagra, are now beyond Russia’s borders.

Russia’s deputy prime minister responsible for CIS affairs, Viktor Khristenko, provided an acrimonious curtain raiser to the summit. In an inaugural August 1 interview with the GazetaSNG internet newspaper–a government mouthpiece, SNG being the Russian acronym for CIS–Khristenko included two controversial demands.

First, Ukraine should confer official status on the Russian language on a par with Ukrainian, because “bilingualism is a historically constituted factor in Ukraine.” Bilingualism is the Soviet euphemism for linguistic Russification of–in this case–Ukrainians, and it predictably angered Kyiv.

Second, Azerbaiijan should route its oil exports via Russia’s port of Novorossiisk, raising the volume from a planned 2.5 million tons this year to 5 million next year and to a whopping 18 million tons annually in a few years’ time. The unstated implication is that Moscow wants Azerbaijan to abandon the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and switch its future exports in the opposite direction. Khristenko’s explanation: “Pipelines and transit corridors should unite the CIS countries, not divide them.” He happens to hold also the post of Russian co-chairman of the Russia-Azerbaijan intergovernmental cooperation commission (Itar-Tass, RIA, July 31, August 1-2; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 2).